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Potomac River

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"Rock on the potomac"

Water Temps

The Potomac River flows into the Chesapeake Bay, located along the mid-Atlantic coast of the United States. The river is approximately 383 statute miles. In terms of area, this makes the Potomac River the fourth largest river along the Atlantic coast of the USA and the 21st largest in the USA.
With approximately 50,000 acres of bass-holding water, the Potomac River is certainly one of the region's largest fisheries. Geographically, this estuary of the Chesapeake Bay is 380 miles long. Freshwater anglers will probably want to concentrate on the tidewater section that is approximately 100 miles long, beginning in the District of Columbia on down to the Route 301 Bridge. The tidal Potomac is a unique river due to its proximity to a large metropolitan area and the high quality of its fishery. Like most brackish waters, the Potomac is home to both freshwater and anadromous or migratory fish like the striped Bass. Herring and shad also frequent the river in the spring and summer. While bass and other species can be caught from the main river, there are a number of tidal creeks that will hold most fish during the year. The Potomac is a vast river system with many forms of cover. Hundreds of old wharves and piers dot the river, as do sunken barges, laydowns and rockpiles. More recently, the addition of submerged aquatic vegetation like hydrilla and milfoil has further expanded the shallow water habitat of sportfish, making the Potomac even better. The upper or freshwater side of the Potomac, all 275 miles, is no less inviting than its tidal section. It begins from a spring in West Virginia and is bordered by West Virginia and Maryland down to Harper’s Ferry. At that point Maryland and Virginia share the river for the remainder of its journey to the Chesapeake Bay The river is full of shoals and bars. Look at your fishfinder the bigger fish are your striped bass. So take a look at a map of the river. GMCO Maps and charts has some nice maps of the river. The bars or shoals are found in the middle or lower portion of the River. They are numerous, all the way to the Chesapeake bay. Shorties as we call them up north can be caught with spoons, crankbaits, jerkbaits or live bait. Anything that resembles their natural forage. Herring, shad or minnows. You can freeline with live bait or chum whatever you prefer. Look at the sand bars, when the tide changes baitfish often get caught on these sandbars especially in late summer, so look for gannetts and gulls feeding on the baitfish, You can bet that stripers will be moving in also. When its cooler look for deeper at least 20 feet deep. You have to get the bait down to them so you'll need added weight. Fish the lumps in the river. There are plenty and they have names. They can be located with a map of the river. Trolling produces some big fish. Trolling is also a popular inshore method of picking up fish that are cruising the shallows or the areas near the shore.

The handful of islands and points in the river also offer great opportunities for fish of all sizes. Some of the larger fish that are taken trolling near islands are taken near St. Clement's Island (Blackstone Island) or Cobb Island. St. Clement's Island is deep on two sides and shallow on two sides, offering a variety of scenarios to accommodate any fishing technique. Many anglers like to troll near the deeper sides of the island. Quite a number of big fish are taken each September in this manner. Swan Point and Mathias Point are popular trolling spots in the middle river, too.Most of the better cooler-weather fishing occurs downstream from the Route 301 bridge.

For the shoreline angler like me you can use my approach and look for structure. Bass hangouts like piers, pilings wrecks, holes, bridges, drop offs, creek mouths and other likely ambush spots. Think like a striper. Where would you lurk to trap a bait fish when your hungry?
Striped bass or rock fish as they are sometimes called point their nose to the current feed at night and when the barometric pressure is falling. The 2 hours before high tide and the two hours after the high tide are the golden hours for the surf angler. The outgoing tide washes all the miniature bait out to sea, and that inturn brings in larger bait to feed close to shore and then the bigger predator the striped bass will feed. Places open to the public are numerous for the shore angler. Numerous places are open to the public to fish from shore. These include Aqua Land on the Maryland side of the Route 301 bridge, The Municipal Pier in Colonial Beach, Wakefield National Park, Pope's Creek and Westmoreland State Park. All offer bank-fishing and the chance to take a keeper rockfish. They have been known to inhabit places not open to the public. but all that you need sometimes is permission from the private landowners. The state and federal land like Wakefield National Park, and Westmoreland State Park. The Municipal Pier in Colonial Beach. North of the Route 301 bridge.  

Shore-bound anglers do the best with bait, and for good reason. During the month of September, rockfish cruise the shallows, hunting baitfish or crabs. Shore-bound anglers have the most luck under low-light conditions: early morning, the evening, night or overcast days. The better fishing conditions are magnified when the tide is turning and running fast. Popular baits include peeler crabs, cut bonker and herring or live minnows.
Anglers who hook their bait and let it drift in or out with the tide will catch more rockfish than anglers employing most other methods most of the time, anyway. However, if the fish are in deeper water, a bottom rig with a weight will enable the angler to reach the fish.
A trick to fishing the shoreline where a creek flows out into the river or a rock jetty provides a haven for baitfish involves the use of a float. Rockfish cruise small creeks, the mouths of such creeks and the lengths of rockpiles or jetties while looking for a meal.


Call Potomac River Fisheries Commission (800/266-3904) for the latest license or limits on rockfish.



Upper River launch sites:

Aquia Marina on Aquia Creek.

Middle River launch sites:

Aqua Land Marina on the Maryland side of the Route 301 bridge
Colonial Beach at the end of Rt. 205 at Monroe Bay
Westmoreland State Park just off of Route 3 in Westmoreland County.

Lower River launch sites:
McGuires Wharf off of Route 202
Krentz Marine Railway on South Yeocomico Creek.


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